Game #14 Review – Redskins at Browns
Entering the contest, the Browns got a gift in that they did not have to face rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III – many felt this tipped the scales towards the home team. The Browns took an early lead, lost it, and reclaimed it late in the second quarter. The second half was another story; the Redskins made the necessary adjustments and dominated the rest of the way. The three-game winning streak is over and the Cleveland Browns did not look good in their final home contest of the season. They now face two, difficult road games – it could be a rough end for the 2012 campaign.
Offense: I was surprised to see how poorly Brandon Weeden played in this contest. The rookie struggled against one of the worst ranked defenses in the NFL. In addition to a pair of interceptions, Weeden also missed several deeper throws early in the game. He never seemed to get into rhythm and could not sustain a drive (let alone one full of passes). The quarterback was able to connect with a receiver or two, but then the drive would end abruptly thereafter (via punt or turnover). Once again, batted passes were evident in this game as well – Weeden had three balls tipped at the line of scrimmage, thus frustrating coaches and fans alike. The quarterback was able to hit on a long touchdown throw in the fourth quarter, but it was relatively “too late” at that point as the Browns found themselves in a huge deficit. A majority would have assumed the first round pick outperform his counterpart (a fourth round rookie), but the Redskins’ signal decidedly won the matchup.
Looking at the total output, the running attack for the Browns was a huge disappointment. As a team, the group was only able to muster fifty-eight combined yards – this is unacceptable on any level of football. Trent Richardson accounted for twenty-eight of this total (none in the second half); he must find a way to pick up more yardage on every opportunity. The rookie did find the end zone twice though, if there was a silver lining for this part of the team. Montario Hardesty has been playing well of late but took a step back on Sunday. He had five yards on only two carries; for whatever reason the game plan strayed from running the football against the Redskins. The receiving game for the running backs was also non-existent. Trent Richardson had three catches for just four yards – each time he caught the football, a defender or two was nearby and in position to make a tackle.
It appeared that Greg Little and Jordan Cameron were the only two receiving targets that came to play against the Redskins. Little finished the contest with five grabs and seventy-four yards (including a thirty yard reception). Tight end Cameron caught all three footballs that came his way for thirty-four yards. This output, along with Benjamin’s touchdown, was a majority of the Browns’ offensive. Having no other alternatives is killing this team; they cannot consistently win games being this limited. Josh Gordon had three catches for twenty-seven yards but was targeted eight times. The rookie must come away with better statistics given this many opportunities. Mohammed Massaquoi was relatively a non-factor again; he had two receptions for sixteen yards. The most frustrating part of the receiving unit was the fact they rarely got separation from the secondary, hindering the passing offense. The receivers will have tall orders in the final two games, but there’s much room for improvement.
Brandon Weeden was sacked twice for a total of eleven yards; the offensive line for the Browns did not play as well as I thought they would have. Shaun Lauvao was bull-rushed a couple of times and was the reason for one of the batted passes. Pressure was apparent against the right side of the line – Mitchell Schwartz did not play terribly but had a difficult time holding off pass rushers. The running attack for the home squad was not dependable; Richardson never met an open hole to run through. Outside of an early fourteen-yard gain, the rookie was limited, and defenders were there to greet the rusher immediately after receiving the handoff. This poor play is concerning, as it appeared that the offensive line was turning things around. Now, the unit is coming off a subpar performance and will face two dominant defensive fronts.
Defense: Early on, it looked like the Browns’ defensive line would have success (following Jabaal Sheard’s sack of Kirk Cousins). Ever since the middle of the second quarter though, the visitors were able to move the football with ease and avoid pressure on passing plays. The opposing signal caller appeared to have several seconds to throw and was able to find multiple targets as a result. One of these was rookie Leonard Hankerson, who came away with a pair of touchdown receptions. Not being able to get to the quarterback was the main reason why the Browns’ defense was beyond ineffective. On a positive note, the run defense for the home team improved, after a tumultuous outing in their previous game. Rookie Alfred Morris did not eclipse the 100-yard total but was able to gain the tough yards – including two scores. Phil Taylor and Billy Winn co-lead the group with five tackles; the pair played well but were never dominant. This game will be remembered for the bootleg play by the Redskins though, and how bad they fooled the front four time after time.
D’Qwell Jackson had a team-high, nine tackles and made some nice open field stops. The linebackers were relatively successful against the run; Craig Robertson and Kaluka Maiava made six and five tackles, respectively, on the outside. Unfortunately, the unit was forced to be in pass coverage though; they were less than successful. Tight end Logan Paulsen came away with four catches for forty-seven yards, including a few key plays to gain first downs. Reserve running back Evan Royster only had two receptions, but they occurred in the second half when the opponent’s offense dominated. These two receivers had Jackson and Robertson covering them, the defenders could not make a play and it cost the team.
The secondary for the Browns had another poor outing; it all began with the fifty-four yard touchdown they surrendered. The rookie for the Redskins (Hankerson) was able to catch the pass between three defenders and find the end zone. Late in the game, it appeared as if Cousins could pick his spot and always find a wide-open target. Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan combined for ten receptions and 125 yards, while Santana Moss had five grabs and fifty-seven yards. There were simply too many playmakers on the opposition and their coaching staff took advantage of these matchups. Sheldon Brown gave up several of these catches and never made a huge play. Joe Haden had two pass deflections in this contest but also allowed a couple of lengthy completions. Not having teammates that rival his speed and ability makes his job extremely difficult; the veteran must play close to perfect knowing he cannot regularly rely on his teammates to shut down wide receivers. T.J. Ward was active in this contest – the safety had five tackles and a pass deflection. He was never really beat in the passing game, but also left the contest early with a knee injury.
Special Teams: The return games were relatively even, as both squads were able to pick up moderate gains on punts and kickoffs. Phil Dawson, unfortunately, was not given an opportunity to kick a field goal (this might have been his final home game at Cleveland Browns Stadium). Once again, Reggie Hodges left much to be desired in the punting game. The veteran’s best punt (of fifty-eight yards) was a touchback and denied the team great field position. Hodges also had a pair of punts that went over just thirty yards; this cannot happen for an NFL punter. Hodges has had a poor season, coming off injury, and his future appears uncertain.
Coaching: Mike Shanahan looked like a genius in this contest; the Browns came out early and dominated on both sides of the ball. The Redskins adjusted though and, in turn, embarrassed the home team in the third and fourth quarters. Kirk Cousins ran the offense well, including some simple bootleg passing plays that were routinely successful. Defensively, the opposition shut down Weeden and the offense late in the game (sans one long play). The odds of Pat Shurmur keeping his job went down significantly after this outing; he displayed being outcoached badly via an inability to utilize in-game adjustments.